Happy Halloween! This week’s “Noteworthy” includes some spooky selections, and some less so.

  1. Man EP by Carter Faith

Working in recording studios for years taught me that there is good music in virtually any genre. Yet, I’ve always found that principle a bit stretched when it comes to pop-country. Perhaps all the long days (and sometimes nights) in Nashville studios jaded me, but I have little tolerance for the make-believe country personas that so many wear like Halloween costumes or the endlessly recycled tropes about tractors and trucks.

So, when Carter Faith showed up in my feed of new music, I felt it perfectly safe to skip past, given that my MO is to find noteworthy new music. But, when a session guitar player whom I worked with and admire posted about the album on Instagram, I decided to give it a spin. And I say with deepest hopes that Ms. Faith (actually, it’s Ms. Jones—Faith is her middle name—see, the persona thing!) will continue to keep the bar high for creativity: She done good.

Her Man EP, particularly given its title track, is all but guaranteed to piss off some in our culture of confusion about what a man even is. She feigns the soft, malleable female stereotype—

I’m fragile, I’m delicate
So lucky for your love

This is a man’s world
My pretty eyes can’t see

—only to flip it on its head, telling a double-crossing ex,

I’m man enough for the both of us
I’m man enough to quit
The truck is packed, no looking back
I’m sick of all your shit.

Of course, a person need not have a penis to have a spine (or a truck, ahem), and that’s the point, one lost on those who treat women like incompetents—incapable of thinking for themselves, setting their own paths, living their own lives. After “Unbreakable Wave,” a straightforward love song with a novel metaphor and gorgeous word painting, “Rodeo & Juliet” continues the independent woman theme, transporting us not to 16th-century Italy but to the 20th-century American Midwest for a story about a rodeo queen. Spanish-sounding horns conjure tumbleweeds, and Faith sings

Juliet didn’t need no man
That show and a bronco trophy
Were her slice of romance

Rock n’ Roll Me” is Faith’s preemptive response to critics, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Man won’t appeal to all—again, I totally empathize if pop-country ain’t your thing. But this is not your stock, “off-the-shelf” pop-country, either. It was crafted with some care, and it may just hit you the right way if you’re in the right mood.

“@carterxfaith's #ManEP is not your stock, off-the-shelf pop-country. It was crafted with care, and one can only hope the young songwriter keeps her creative standards this high.” —@revivingreason
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  1. Danse Macabre by Duran Duran

Duran Duran is the living undead. The band has died and come back to life time and again since forming in 1978 and, appropriately, their sixteenth album is a Halloween-themed dance-party soundtrack perfect for zombies, werewolves, and witches. “Nightboat” pulls you into a rainy twilight; a swampy bassline thuds below, while bat-like keys flit about overhead. And if Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” could get zombies dancing, beware of “Black Moonlight,” with its eighties funk groove and ghostly ethereal synth sounds. You’ll think you’re in a Hocus Pocus movie. Danse Macabre might not be your daily jam, but it’s sure to become a holiday classic that will never die.

“@duranduran's #DanseMacabre is sure to become a Halloween classic that will never die.” —@revivingreason
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  1. Arrullos Mexicanos (Deluxe) by Various Artists

“Arrullos Mexicanos” means Mexican cooing, or Mexican lullabies, and that’s precisely what this album is: a collection of soft, sleepy Mexican pieces recorded by various artists. That said, it’s not necessarily ideal for putting babies to sleep. Not only does the nature of a compilation make for some less-than-seamless song transitions, the timbres of some of the instruments also are a tad too attention-grabbing (or at least that’s been my experience with my five-month-old). Instead, think of this as a soundtrack for reverie, an intimate dinner, perhaps, or for relaxing on the beach.

The gentle vocal on Flor de Toloache’s “Mi Niño Se Va a Dormir,” with the song’s strangely hollow-sounding pizzicato strings and swooping vocal harmonies, sounds a bit like walking through a chamber of vibrant but delicate fabrics, each giving way with a gentle push to another layer, and yet another. Centavrvs’s “Flor de Mayo,” with its airy, interweaving vocal lines, is reminiscent of the medieval choral works of Guillame Dufay and John Dunstable, but its delicate guitar and piano parts lock together like the gears of a sonorous clock. The down-tempo electronic sounds of Pahuas “Polen” will please fans of such artists as Zero 7; it sounds like stepping into a painting of some idyllic scene, the vocals becoming—for non-Spanish speakers like me, at least—just another instrumental color, pulling one into the sonic landscape.

So, try Arrullos Mexicanos for siphoning off some unhelpful adrenaline and calming a racing mind so you can be more present and think more clearly. This beautiful collection can heighten your sensitivity to things you might otherwise rush past: colors, textures, tastes, and other oft-neglected sources of simple pleasures.

“Try #ArrullosMexicanos—with tracks by @flordetoloache @centavrvs @pahuamusic and more—for siphoning off some unhelpful adrenaline and calming a racing mind so you can be more present and think more clearly.” —@revivingreason
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  1. Echoes of Life (Deluxe Edition) by Alice Sara Ott

Alice Sara Ott’s Echoes of Life was born not only of COVID-lockdown isolation—it was her first recording after being diagnosed in early 2019 with multiple sclerosis. A disease with no cure as yet, it attacks the central nervous system and wreaks havoc on one’s motor skills, a consequence Ott endured partway through a concert before she’d been diagnosed. She thought she might never be able to play again. So, when she recovered enough in 2021 to take to the studio—actually, a Munich church—heavy emotions poured out into the pieces she’d selected. These include Chopin’s op. 28—itself twenty-four (mostly) short préludes by a master of Romantic “pianism,” which she’d long wanted to record—interspersed by seven more contemporary works that she says reflect key moments in her life.

The first of these, Francesco Tristano’s “In the Beginning Was,” starts with a reverberant, distant-sounding piano, which seemingly gets closer as the music unfolds, as if bending to the listener’s desire to enter that German cloister and draw nearer the source. The upward runs shift into an upbeat rhythmic pattern that sounds like a child’s persistent questioning. Occasional sonic snags in the form of dissonances evoke the effortful process of working through apparent contradictions, slowly building knowledge—and rising with it to a correspondingly brighter and bolder view of things. György Ligeti’s “Musica ricercata: I” likewise features a slowly building pattern, but this one is more rhythmic than melodic, leveraging purposeful homogeneity to evoke an ill-tempered, almost mechanical routine, like an airport security guard monotonously beckoning people through a line. This continues, picking up steam, until single notes of such speed begin to blur into a sustained roar, like an engine whirring to life—or like hardly controlled frustration.

Ott’s performances of Chopin’s preludes are characteristically virtuosic. Compare no. 15—the famous raindrop prelude—with Vladimir Ashkenazy’s 1993 recording, for instance, which is certainly beautiful. Ott’s version, however—a full minute and ten seconds longer—is like viscous honey; everything is thicker, slower, sweeter. Yet, she also stresses dissonances that others let fall more lightly and, at times, de-emphasizes the repeating high note “drip-drop” pattern from which the piece gets its nickname. This, plus the full and present low end, gives this album a novel weightiness, like something sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

That gravitas is felt throughout, but particularly on the handful of pieces in the key of C minor, including not only Chopin’s Prélude no. 20, but also two pieces by the Irish composer John Field (one of Chopin’s influences), both added for this just-released deluxe edition of Echoes of Life. Ott explains that C minor has a distinct meaning for her because she was playing in that key when her illness gripped her hand and left her flailing, unable to grab the next chord. The deluxe edition includes a counterbalance to the new C minor pieces: a C major section of J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. This, along with the two Field pieces, appears twice, recorded once on grand piano, and again, more intimately, on upright. The sum total, an hour and a half of stunning piano music, runs the emotional gamut. But its greater focus on darker—one might even say “spooky”—themes echoes a life forever changed.

“#EchoesofLife by @AliceSaraOtt runs the emotional gamut. But its greater focus on darker—one might even say “spooky”—themes echoes a life forever changed.” —@revivingreason
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That’s “Noteworthy” for this week. Have a wonderful Halloween, and let me know what you’ve been listening to lately!

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